Mr. Schuurman

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Meeting the Needs of the LGBT Travel Market

By Darrell Schuurman, Co-Founder, Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of diversifying your customer base and how the LGBT market offers great opportunities for hotel operators. However, to be successful in this market, or any market for that matter, it is critical that you know who this market is and what they are looking for. Without this, you will not be able to successfully meet their expectations.

To get a better understanding of the market, research firm Protean Strategies examined the Canadian LGBT traveler by segmenting the market into more meaningful groups. They developed a four segment model based on the travelers' needs state (defined in experiential terms rather than benefit or attribute) for a particular trip. The requirements of a trip, therefore, was not defined by demographic, psychographic, or traditional benefit attributes, but rather by the experience sought. They identified four segments: a trip where being LGBT makes no difference; an LGBT trip with LGBT friends to do LGBT things; a trip to an LGBT location or an LGBT cruise; and a trip explicitly to party in an LGBT environment. From their 2014 research, when examined based on these four experiential need segments, it was shown that 64% of trips taken by LGBT travelers was for a trip where being LGBT made no difference. For the most part, LGBT travelers are looking for the type of experience that the general mainstream traveler looks for.

When examining why LGBT travelers choose a destination, the leading reasons are not-LGBT specific; attractions, culinary, arts & culture, cost, and visiting family and friends top the list. LGBT specific offerings, such as targeted events and bars are much lower down the list. However, when looking at the most important attributes a destination must offer, safety comes in at number two with 93% saying it is a very or somewhat very important attribute, followed closely by an LGBT friendly reputation (91%). What this says is that, when choosing a place to travel to, the destination must be safe and inviting, but those are not necessarily the reasons why they will ultimately select a destination. In other words, they expect the places they visit to be welcoming; if a destination is not seen as friendly, it won't even be considered.

So when it comes to choosing accommodations, what attributes are most important to the market? The 2014 research by Protean Strategies shows that price is the most important attribute, followed by location (specifically proximity to attractions). This again reflects the fact that LGBT consumers' travel decisions are influenced by similar elements as the mainstream traveler. However, for LGBT travelers, 89% stated that the fact that a property was LGBT friendly was a very or a somewhat important attribute when choosing a hotel. This key factor is different from the mainstream traveler; for you as a hotel operator to grow your share of the market, you need to be able to position your property as one that is seen as LGBT welcoming.

LGBT consumers in general are cautious of where they spend their dollars, preferring to spend their dollars with companies that are supportive of, and committed to, the LGBT community at large. The same is true when it comes to where LGBT travelers are going to spend their dollars, both in terms of destinations as well as tourism products. As I mentioned in my last article, the support and commitment the market expects from a business is much more than just slapping a rainbow flag on the front window or in an advertisement; it's making a dedicated investment in the market.

There are numerous efforts a hotel property can engage in, both internally and externally, to demonstrate its commitment and to begin earning the trust of the traveler.

Actually building that trust and being seen as an LGBT friendly property requires that, internally, you have your house in order. This is achieved by ensuring that you have in place policies and procedures covering LGBT diversity and inclusion, and programs to educate and train your employees on LGBT diversity. Here are just a few internal considerations when attempting to meet the needs of the market and position your property as an LGBT welcoming accommodation.

Training & Support

Providing diversity information and support to all employees facilitates a better understanding and appreciation of LGBT individuals, and helps to build better workplace teams and improve service to all guests. You can achieve this by:

  • Reviewing all training and information provided to employees and including any aspects relating to LGBT awareness.
  • Providing training for all staff on diversity and equality and include LGBT issues. It should be clear that homophobia, transphobia and the discrimination and harassment of LGBT workers is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
  • Facilitating the creation of an LGBT employee resource group (ERG). These groups allow LGBT and allied employees an opportunity to share experiences and offer support to each other, while providing them access to potential mentors. An LGBT ERG not only can support corporate goals, but can also actively engage with the local community through various outreach efforts.

Policies and Procedures

Providing inclusive policies and procedures for LGBT employees helps to build a more dedicated and engaged workforce, while helping to attract more diverse talent. Suggestions include:

  • Reviewing recruitment and selection procedures to ensure that they do not discriminate against LGBT workers. Job descriptions and criteria for applications should be reviewed to check that there is no bias that prevents certain groups of people applying.
  • Having an open policy on complaints regarding bullying, harassment, or working in a hostile environment and always treating such complains as valid. Ensure all policies and guidelines have explicit commitment to tackling discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Publicize your policies and complaint procedures widely to send out a strong message of your commitment to valuing equality and diversity.
  • Ensuring dress codes and policies accommodate the needs of people who are transitioning.
  • Providing a confidential route for LGBT people to discuss issues, apply for special leave, etc. This may be via a senior personnel employee or diversity specialist.

Communication and Language

Good communication and mutual respect are essential, for both employees and guests, in order to build a relationship of trust. Here are some communication tips to keep in mind that will help to build that trust: - Do not allow the use of discriminatory language and behaviour anywhere within the workplace. Be sure to utilize acceptable group terms (such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) and avoid other names that may be in common use but may depend on certain conditions or relationships.

  • Internal policies should refer to gender-neutral terms. For example use 'parents' rather than 'mothers' or 'fathers'.
  • Ensure all paperwork, including information leaflets and application forms, uses language that is inclusive of LGBT people and families. For example, questions about marital status should include 'common law' in addition to 'married'; the use of inclusive terms such as 'partner' or 'significant other' should be used in place of 'husband' or 'wife'. Remember, the use of terms such as 'marriage' or 'married' cannot be taken to assume a person is heterosexual.
  • Ensure that you know how employees and guests prefer to be addressed and stick to that form of address. If you do not know how they prefer to be addressed, stick to their name and avoid using titles. And always address the person in the gender they present to you.
  • Be sensitive about the manner in which you request information from guests; use language that is inclusive and gender neutral.

It is important to remember that you may have LGBT employees and customers, even if you are not aware of whom they are, but you should never make assumptions. At the same time, understand that someone who may be out and open in their job may not be out in their local community; you need to recognize an individual's right to be open about their sexual orientation or to conceal it.

Enterprise-wide Implementation

It is important that diversity and inclusion extends beyond just the HR department; there should be engagement from all departments within the company.

One example is within the procurement department, and ensuring purchasing policies and procedures are LGBT inclusive. Purchasing goods and services from a diverse supplier base within the community, including LGBT-owned businesses, allows companies to capitalize on competitive advantages from a broader source of innovative and flexible companies. Moreover, supplier diversity ensures that a company's suppliers reflect their marketplace. It helps to build consumer brand loyalty by demonstrating they are buying from LGBT owned businesses, and thus directly supporting the LGBT community. It is, simply, good business.

These are just some of the ways internally that you as a hotel operator can ensure your property is LGBT market ready and thus better enable you to meet the needs of the market. These suggestions not only help position your property as an LGBT inclusive and welcoming property, it also improves employee satisfaction which in turn increases employee productivity and corporate profitability.

In the next article, we will continue to look at how an organization can demonstrate its commitment to the market through external activities, and examine ways to engage the LGBT traveler.

Darrell Schuurman is the co-founder of Travel Gay Canada, working towards improving economic opportunities for members through research, product development, and the promotion of Canada as an LGBT travel destination. Mr. Schuurman is also the co-founder of the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. He has over 20 years experience in tourism, working in the accommodation, transportation, tourism services, and travel trade sectors of the industry. Mr. Schuurman can be contacted at 416-761-5151 or darrell@cglcc.ca Extended Bio...

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